Traumatic Spinal Cord Injuries in Geriatric Populations

elderly man with walker

In the United States, the elderly population (aged 65 years or older) is currently the fastest-growing demographic. Because physical functioning and strength begin to decline as individuals grow older, the occurrence of age-related injuries, including falls, has significantly increased in recent years. Falls are the most common cause of traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) among the geriatric population, representing a serious public health problem because of the high rates of death and disability associated with SCI. As a result, researchers are highly motivated to study the prevalence and outcomes of SCI among the elderly population.

A team of researchers in New York recently investigated issues related to SCI among individuals aged 65 years and older. They analyzed hospital records from 53 elderly patients who were admitted to a level 1 trauma center for SCI between 2003 and 2013. They found that:

  • Nearly two-thirds of the patients underwent surgery as a result of their injuries.
  • About two-thirds of patients experienced at least one type of complication during their stay in the hospital. Most of these complications affected the patients’ heart or lungs.
  • Falling was the most common cause of SCI.
  • Young geriatric patients (aged 65-74) sustained the most serious injuries, potentially because younger individuals are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors (such as horseback riding or climbing a ladder).

Demographic estimates suggest that by 2050, one-fifth of the U.S. population will be 65 years or older. As a result, age-related injuries such as falls and SCI are expected to increase significantly in the coming years. Researchers and clinicians should remain aware of the specific treatment needs of elderly individuals, who often require tailored management and intervention plans to ensure best outcomes after SCI.

Arul K, Ge L, Ikpeze T, et al. Traumatic spinal cord injuries in geriatric populations: Etiology, management, and complications. Journal of Spine Surgery. (March 2019).

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